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Iron Man (Heroes Return)

The Marvels
by yo go re

Guess who's back! Back again!

Following his apparent demise at the hands of Onslaught alongside the other Avengers, Tony Stark returns home with a new armor and new focus.

In 1990, Alex Ross came to the world's attention thanks to a Terminator series from NOW Comics, a company that has otherwise completely faded from memory. Impressed by this new unknown kid's art, writer Kurt Busiek teamed with him to do a pitch for Iron Man, as the existing creative team was leaving in late 1991. The editor didn't pick them (instead we got Len Kaminski and Kev Hopgood, the ones who invented War Machine, so that's still good), but after the "Heroes Reborn" era, Busiek was a much bigger "get," so Marvel brought him on to save the reputations of both the Avengers and Iron Man. Although Sean Chen was the artist assigned to Iron Man, nobody could agree on a new design for the armor, so Busiek went back and asked Ross for permission to use his existing design.

Just like the other rejected-then-reused Alex Ross Iron Man design, this figure was sculpted by Dennis Chan. The upper arms and legs are from the standard body, but the rest is new. When Ross was designing this back in 1991, the idea was to play up the "knight in armor" aspect of the character; thus the fancy pauldrons and the raised collar (which was originally much taller). Pistons or something connect the shoulders to the unique hexagonal chest beam, and to a similar pentagon in the center of the back. There are insets on the inside of the forearms and the back of the legs that keep them from looking as bulky as the armor it was originally intended to follow.

The Model 16 armor has a horned faceplate because that was Kurt Busiek's favorite armor of all time. In-universe, it was the first armor that could automatically shield its eyes against bright flashes of light. Also, because this comic came out in 1998, the suit had other unbelievably high-tech features like "a locator chip" and "a built-in digital camera." THE '90S!!!!!!

This toy opts to make the non-red parts of the costume gold, rather than yellow. It's a personal preference thing, but considering the comics couldn't "do" gold as a color and just had highlighted yellow, that's almost always going to be my preference. Seriously, AI Armor over 80th Anniversary Armor any day. One feature of the suit was an internal glow - not something from Ross's original design, but something inspired by CGI fan art printed in an Iron Man fanzine. Since the overall armor design was vaguely medieval, the glow would provide a futuristic kick. While the sections on the forearms, collar, and head are painted, it's really hard to see. Like, the lines where the paint goes are so thin that you can barely make them out unless you're specifically getting down in there looking for it.

The articulation is the same as you'd expect from a toy built on this Iron Man body: swivel/hinge ankles, swivel boots, double-hinged knees, swivel thighs, balljointed hips, swivel waist, hinged chest, swivel/hinge wrists, double-hinged elbows, swivel biceps, swivel/hinge shoulders, a hinged neck, and balljointed head. It gets the swivelling pauldrons we usually like so much, but in this case, moving them means those connectors going between the shoulders and the torso armor no longer line up properly, breaking the illusion. I'm not smart enough to know a better way to do them and retain mobility, but it's disappointing.

We don't get any parts for the Totally Awesome Hulk Build-A-Figure, just open hands or fists, and a pair of translucent yellow blast effects for the palms or heels. It would have been nice if they'd done those in green instead: that's the color his exhaust was colored at the time. Plus we haven't had them in that color before.

This armor has a couple different fan names - Retro, Renaissance, etc. - but even Marvel can't decide whether it's the Model 16 or Model 17 (it depends on whether they're counting Hulkbuster as a separate thing this month or not). It was the last Iron Man armor created in the '90s, and so featured in the story where, thanks to the confluence of a lightning strike and the Y2K bug, the armor became sentient. And also got murderously jealous when Tony wore any other suits. So basically Venom, but Iron Man. The only toy this armor has had before is the Minimate, so even if he doesn't make much sense for a Captain Marvel line, it's exciting to get a Marvel Legend at last.

-- 09/25/23

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